How to nail your UCAS personal statement

Writing a personal statement for university applications can be a daunting time. It seems as though there is no distinct ‘right’ way to do it, and this, coupled with the overwhelming pressure of becoming an adult and starting your life, can make the process incredibly stressful. This post will provide some guidance on how to write a personal statement for university, whilst still managing to be original, and showcase your own unique qualities.

How to get started on your personal statement

There are specific stages you need to go through to get the best personal statement you can. Don’t skip the preparation, as that’s the foundation for your UCAS showcase. Rather like an essay plan, if you don’t do it, you’ll miss some important opportunities to show how good you are.

Planning your personal statement

Drafting is a key element of the personal statement process. You wouldn’t go into a baking or cooking endeavour without a clear recipe, so make sure you plan and draft before coming to a final version for UCAS. 

Begin by planning your personal statement – think about what is most important for you to cover, and what will appeal most about you to universities. Make sure your plan covers what you want to study and why, skills and experience that make you suited to studying that degree, and any other wider interests that support your enjoyment of it. A great exercise to field material for this plan is to ask your friends and family what is particularly academically notable about you – you might have missed a key passion or skill! 

When writing your first draft, do NOT focus on the character count. Make sure your first draft is all of your initial thoughts as to why you are a suitable candidate and your experience to prove this. You can always edit down once you’ve finished, but it is worth having all your ideas on the same document, as this allows you to hone and come back to early ideas if needed. 

Start your first draft early; if you’re aiming for an October submission for Oxbridge or Medicine, write your first personal statement draft over your Year 12 summer holidays, or in early September. If you’re aiming for January, it doesn’t hurt to start early, but make sure you have a solid first draft soon after you start your final year at school. The more time you leave, the more time you have to polish and perfect your personal statement

Write about what you gained from experience

Nailing a UCAS personal statement requires evidence of your suitability. When you speak about your experiences, you need to elaborate on how they make you a great candidate for your course. Any work experience or super-curricular work you’ve done doesn’t instantly flag you as an ideal student; you need to explain what you learned from the experience, and how it developed your attitude towards a specific subject or idea. This also allows your personal statement to flow properly, as you can reference an experience, discuss what you learned, and move on to another idea that it led you to.

Getting the right level of detail in a personal statement

A UCAS statement needs to be specific, and include necessary detail, but you also need to be aware of the character count, and avoid repeating yourself. Space is at a premium on a UCAS form! You don’t need to over explain concepts and ideas; instead, focus on discussing the impact of them on your thinking and interest in the subject. Be concise, honest, and make sure you evidence your personal enthusiasm for the subject, and you’re sure to nail your personal statement.

Include practical, educational and social evidence

You need to come across as a well-rounded candidate in your personal statement. This means that as well as your educational interests, you should highlight practical application and your wider social interests. This sounds lofty, but all it really means is that you need to demonstrate that you have read around your subject and have interests within it, as well as experience talking about it on a more practical level. This can simply be by attending, for example a book club for a literature degree, or a debate for a politics degree. Extracurriculars like these can show an admissions officer that you are willing to engage with your subject in your wider life. 

You also need to include references to your extracurricular pursuits like sports, music or other interests outside of school. This shows universities that you would be an asset to their wider institution and are a well-rounded individual. The length of this section depends on the nature of your UCAS application; Oxbridge candidates will not need a significant portion devoted to this type of extracurricular because their admissions tutors value academic interest more highly. Whatever you reference, make sure to explain how the activity has shaped you.

Highlight your strengths

Don’t be shy about highlighting your strengths in your UCAS personal statement. Ensure your writing is accurate, but don’t create a sense of false modesty; you are a great candidate and you need to show this to a university!

Another great tip for personal statement writing is to focus on your strengths. Try and avoid including moments where you have been less successful; for example, don’t reference things like applying for schemes that you weren’t accepted onto. Whilst this can be an example of how you’ve grown as a person from failure, it is more important to devote characters to where you have succeeded in life. You can always save your learning curves for any interviews you might be invited to.

Seek feedback on your first draft

Get lots of feedback when writing your UCAS personal statement, from a variety of sources. Teachers can help to hone the academic material of your statement, as well as standard phrasing and grammar issues, whereas parents or friends might be able to help you make your statement more personal to you. Try not to be defensive of constructive criticism – remember, these people want you to succeed, and can see different facets of you. Carefully consider all of the feedback you receive, and use it to make little tweaks to your writing until you have a final draft you are proud of.

Meet the UCAS deadlines!

This almost goes without saying, but a well written personal statement means nothing if it isn’t submitted on time. Getting it in early means you can forget about it and focus on your studies during this all-important final year of school. You can find up to date deadlines on the UCAS website.

So, whilst writing a personal statement for university can seem like a big task, when you break it down into segments and take enough time planning, it is easily manageable. Be confident in yourself; if you have a true passion for your subject and have put energy into it throughout your school career, this will easily shine through in your personal statement. Just be sure to take your time, plan, and highlight your strengths. Good luck!

Featured post by Maddie Wills

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